Romare Bearden, Three Folk Musicians

An abstract painting, a collage, three musicians, two guitars and a banjo.

Romare Bearden, Three Folk Musicians, 1967, collage of various papers with paint and graphite on canvas, 50 x 60 x 1 ½ inches (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond). A conversation with Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Dr. Leo Mazow, Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Dr. Steven Zucker

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Key Points

  • Romare Bearden is often best known for the collages depicting Black American life that he created in the 1960s. In the collages, Bearden combines cut and torn paper, taken from pre-existing drawings and paintings as well as from magazines, to portray his subjects as part of a complex and dynamic composition. In Three Folk Musicians, the complexity is heightened by the placement of the collage elements on top of an underlying, abstractly painted canvas.
  • Bearden was a founding member of the Spiral group, formed in 1963 and dedicated to their identity and role as Black artists within the unfolding Civil Rights Movement. At this time, Bearden began to focus on the practice of collage, specifically responding to European and American modernism by expertly blending abstraction and representation to form a unique type of socially charged imagery. His collages and other later works were integral to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
  • Throughout his career, Bearden maintained relationships with musicians and described his creative practice as similar to forms of improvisational music-making such as jazz. In Three Folk Musicians, the inclusion of both the Western European guitar and the African banjo reflect Bearden’s awareness of African culture and intentional fusion of it into a modern American context.

More to Think About

Why do you feel Bearden’s use of and approach to collage is so effective for this artwork? You might explore comparisons with other artists who used collage (such as Pablo Picasso and the Synthetic Cubists, the Surrealists, or Robert Rauschenberg) and/or consider the context of Bearden’s collages in the context of the civil rights movement.

Teaching guide for Spiral: Black Art and the Civil Rights Movement

Cite this page as: Dr. Leo G. Mazow and Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, "Romare Bearden, Three Folk Musicians," in Smarthistory, March 22, 2022, accessed May 18, 2024,